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Theremin (wikipedia.org)
61 points by djoldman on Aug 22, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 39 comments

The first time I hear a Theremin played is in a song by "Detektivbyrån" called "Om Du Möter Varg" - you can hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88rxS9ZLytk&t=1m15s

I found it fascinating, especially the way they've used it in that song, as a replacement for a vocal.

Is the use of fret marks (the player has a piece of cardboard with lines for certain notes) a common thing among Theremin players or is it generally not done for some reason? (Intuitively it makes sense, yet it's the first time I have noticed them)

That was interesting and proficient Theremin playing, thanks for the link.

I'm sorry, I can not hear "theramin" without thinking of the cats playing theramin video.


I'll show myself the door now.


I think we all have various misspellings baked into our heads. The most obvious is "pronounciation" which I still think sometimes, even though I know it's wrong.

Maciej Ceglowski gave a really great talk about the inventor of the theremin:


The inventor Léon Theremin is incredibly smart and creative, having also thought up a way of using a beam on faraway exterior windows to eavesdrop on conversations within and the unpowered, undetectable listening device which was only discovered by accident after being operational for 7 years.


I've heard people play it at developer event concerts...it sounds really bad. I guess it's technically interesting, but will never be popular just because it doesn't sound any good. Kind of a common description of developer created apps, actually, before user focused UX, so no surprise.

This has more to do, I think, with it being an instrument that is extremely hard to play. It's very difficult to move from note to note, and extremely difficult to stay in tune, especially in a setting with large numbers of people around, who, when they move, will change the tuning. Yet it is primarily played by people who see it as a fun toy, or simply don't practice much. For some reason, with the theremin, perhaps because it's an interesting instrument in itself, people find it alright to perform on it while completely unqualified to do so.

No one's going to go toy around with a violin for a few weeks and then insist on performing. Or at least, if they do, no one is going to blame the violin for the results.

Nonetheless, as some examples, people like Clara Rockmore, Lydia Kavina, and Carolina Eyck all perform very well for technical, difficult pieces, and Randy George does a good job with more modern, popular pieces.

people find it alright to perform on it while completely unqualified to do so.

What is this Theremin performance qualification, and which music police offer it?

It the United Allied Association of Officially Approved and Sanctioned Theremin Practitioners (UAAOASTP), Inc., LLC., SA, GMBH. They're owned by a registered foreign corporation in Belize that's in turn owned by Halliburton.

"Never be popular?" It's all over the damned place. Beach Boys. Led Zeppelin. Rolling Stones. It pretty much defined the sound of creepy horror movies from back in the day.

More here: http://www.slate.com/content/slate/blogs/browbeat/2009/07/27...

It's a popular instrument that sounds awesome when used properly.

Hell, even I used to own one.

You can hear a theremin in the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations during the chorus:


Good Vibrations doesn't use the theremin, but a custom electronic instrument that was inspired by the trombone: http://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2013/02/07/171385175/no...

I went to the first Moogfest about 10 years ago. Back then, it was a tiny event featuring obscure musicians, and I saw a fantastic theremin virtuoso. Due to the extreme difficulty of playing the instrument well, my guess is that the vast majority of people simply aren't capable of ever achieving the level of proficiency that makes it actually sound beautiful like this woman did. I've never liked the sound of the instrument outside of her playing.

Her name, by the way, is Pamelia Kurstin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJU0QRYbe4A

The trouble with the theremin is that you have to be really good before it sounds even halfway decent, simply because staying on key is so hard. Even if you're good, you can't do much with it.

But maybe if it had something like Auto-Tune, so it had a bias for being on key...

There's no useful way to add pitch quantisation. If it's always in pitch when a note starts, it will soon drift out as soon as you move one hand.

A Theremin that played piano scales would be a sad thing.

It's not that much harder to play than many orchestral instruments. The problem is more that people are used to make-it-easy synths and samplers now, so the idea that you might have to spend a few years learning where the notes are without mechanical help is very alien.

And it's much easier if you have perfect pitch. (I don't, but I know people who do, and I watched one get the pitching right very quickly.)

Ummm it's a sawtooth oscillator based analog synth. It sounds like that. It's easy to learn, difficult to master. It was a huge part of 60s and 70s music. you could say that a Stradivarius sounds bad if a toddler is playing it. I it's just an instrument, and it depends on the player to "sound good"

Technically the original design was based on beating sine wave oscillators - no analog synth modules at all.

I've always enjoyed Dorit Chrysler's Theremin music. I suspect you haven't looked deeply enough into recordings of Theremins to disregard it like that.


I sounded just ok to me. The accompaniment sounded way better.

In the same year, the french Maurice Martenot invented a similar instrument, but much bigger [1]. Here's a performance from a piece from french composer Olivier Messiaen, who integrated it in a lot of his pieces [2].

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ondes_Martenot [2] http://youtu.be/1LobZ8vg9qE

My neighbor in the dorms one year in College was learning the theremin. It's a neat instrument, but his first few weeks learning made it sound like there was a dolphin orgy next door.

> It's a neat instrument, but his first few weeks learning made it sound like there was a dolphin orgy next door.

A dolphin orgy would mean the dolphins were having fun.

There's a pretty cool documentary called "I Dream of Wires" that covers the early history of electronic (in this case analog electronic) music. It has a bit about the Theremin as well as the early modular synthesizers. Saw it hit Netflix the other day - well worth a watch if you are interested in this stuff.

I think it is the same documentary that my music technology professor showed us. While a simple instrument, it's implications were quite outstanding for its time. I wonder why it is no longer widely known.

I'm thinking of selling mine given I've not touched it in years.


Any other suggestions on how to build an easy theremin on scratch? http://www.instructables.com/id/Easy-theremin/

If you want to get the real deal, kits go for about 359. Some minimal soldering required. You can get kits a bit cheaper on ebay.


Theremins are awesome, me and a friend made a theremin app for iPhone a couple years back. Check it out on http://theremin.io

Hope you don't mind the plug :)

In addition to the tonal aspects modern theremins like the Moog Etherwave also make great CV controllers.


Also relevant: the Wii Theremin


> Theremin > Tim Blake > Hawkwind > Live Seventy Nine

Thank you for enriching my life.

Incubus has some live shows with the theremin and it seemed pretty cool.

The Star Trek original series intro is played on the theremin, here is Sheldon (BBT) playing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnTLZtZzrWU

Midsomer murders

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